Disney to preserve 3,000 acres of wetlands so they can destroy wetlands closer to park

The Disney Wilderness Preserve - Photo via Nature.org
Photo via Nature.org
The Disney Wilderness Preserve

Walt Disney World has plenty of new construction happening all across the property; including Disney Springs, Pandora at Animal Kingdom and major expansions at Hollywood Studios. In late 2014, Disney purchased the failed 3,000 acre Miralago residential development in Poinciana to expand the Disney Wilderness Preserve. The preserve has served as a way to shift wetland protections from Walt Disney World to allow more dense development at the resort.

Disney initially requested 350 acres within WDW to be rezoned but quickly increased the request to 575 acres as part of a 20 year plan for the resort. While most of the land is in smaller parcels spread about there are a few large parcels of interest.

The first major parcel is within the Flamingo Crossing development along the western edge of WDW. That area is becoming a new hub of third party hotels with plans for retail and possible residential units (it’s zoned for townhomes or apartments but it’ll likely be College Program housing). The new request includes annexing that land into the Reedy Creek Improvement District and increasing the usable land to as much as 600 acres (for comparison that’s roughly 200 acres smaller than the Universal Orlando Resort or nearly double the size of the Disneyland Resort).

The next major area of interest in the proposed changes includes 169 acres within what is known as the ‘Magic Kingdom District;’ which includes the namesake park and its surrounding resorts. That area is believed to be mostly back of house operational expansions but some speculate that a new hotel resort, another major parking lot expansion, a new larger bus staging area, or an alternative to the Ticket & Transportation Center (TTC) might be built as well.

Just over 100 acres along 192 are also in the plans. Disney has no major development along the popular tourist highway but rumors have been increasing on Disney looking to add third party hotels, retail and similar development along that strip of highway. It would also likely include office space for certain departments that now work out of Celebration.

The most interesting district though has to be the Studios/Sports district; which includes both the ESPN Wide World of Sports and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There they are looking to increase the amount of buildable land by 122 acres. The majority of that land is the currently wooded area between the DHS parking lot and Victory Way. The very strong rumor for some time points to Disney moving the dual entrances to DHS from World Drive and Buena Vista Drive to a single entrance off of Victory Way. That would allow the park to use the current main toll plaza area behind Star Tours and Streets of America as part of the Star Wars expansion plot.

Other areas include some land near Animal Kingdom which could be used to expand that theme park or its nearby resort hotel. Epcot and Disney Springs area also had some acreage, mostly smaller plots, that could be used to expand resorts, backstage areas or parking lots.

If the governing bodies, including the South Florida Water Management District, approve the wetland mitigation plan, Disney will pay to restore the Mira Lago property to a natural environment. That would include removing any invasive species from the land. Disney presented an 8 year schedule to restoring the Miralago property that includes quarterly monitoring and water level recorders.

The mitigation plan has already gain positive feedback from many environmental groups that point to the WDW wetland area as not the most ideal space to preserve due to its close proximity to unique urban environments.

Are 3,000 acres a few miles away in Poinciana a fair trade to be given the rights to destroy wetlands within WDW? Should Disney look for other ways to grow? Does this actually mean the resort is posed for major growth?